The Transfiguration of our Lord, year B, 2015 (preached 2/15/15)
first reading: 2 Kings 2:1-12
second reading: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
gospel reading: Mark 9:2-9
Each time I read the story of the Transfiguration, I am tempted to go straight for Peter. Poor Peter. James and John stay quiet, but Peter blurts out, “let’s build a monument to the occasion!”
Blurting out isn’t the only response we see here – so is wanting to build something to remember it by. We live in a world filled with monuments to events and important people in history. And if there was ever a moment for a monument, this was it.
Jesus doesn’t answer Peter’s request, but the answer was obviously “no,” because they are soon heading back down the mountain with orders of secrecy.
Why the secrecy? Peter, James and John heard the voice from heaven, they saw Moses and Elijah and a transformed Jesus. Who could keep quiet?
But again, Jesus says no – don’t share the event with anyone until “after the fact.” Because the “glory” only comes after the fact – the fact of the crucifixion and death.
FIRST Jesus must go through suffering. Only then, in the resurrection, will God’s glory be revealed. No cross, no crown. No pain, no gain.
It seems flippant to say, but its reality is disturbing, shocking, and yet ultimately just what we need. It’s shocking and disturbing because it flies in the face of all the measures of glory that this world holds dear. When we think of glory do we think of a beaten bloody man hanging from a cross, or the dazzling man on the mountain?
The Transfiguration was a gift that allows us to see Jesus within the great salvation story of God’s people, indeed Jesus as the END of the line – but it was not the gift – THAT gift was the cross. The disciples wouldn’t understand this until after the resurrection. You and I have the benefit of their experience and their witness.
We have the gift of a god who could’ve chosen to be like an earthly king, who could’ve shown us glory through a miraculous military campaign, showing power by curing the diseased, manifesting strength killing those who were weaker, or tyrants who persecuted the people.
But NO. Our God doesn’t work that way. Our God chose a different path than the path we expect from the powerful and the glorious.
Our God chose to turn the meaning of strength and power and glory upside down.
A god who operates through human standards of success and failure, of joy and pain, is not a god I can relate to when my life is awful. A god whose definition of glory equals that of ours, where winning is everything, can’t possibly understand me in my failure. A god who defines strength and weakness by who can overpower and who is crushed, cannot possibly be present for me when I’m overcome and lost in pain.
God looked at all that and said, “No. I choose a better way.”
It may not always feel like God chose the better way – like when we want to be rescued from a bad situation, or when we or those we love suffer – but it is ultimately the way that saves us.
God transfigures Jesus on that mountain, but God transfigures the whole structure of human valuing and judging, and in the process transfigures you and me.
This is why we can’t have Christmas without Easter, or Easter without Good Friday.
The crown without the cross, the gain without the pain, might do a thing or two to help us “feel” better in the here and now, but they do nothing to help us in the real struggles, the real pain, the real suffering in life – they would only give us a fairytale, where the only acceptable endings are happy ones. But what happens to us then when our endings aren’t happy?
If God chose the crown without the cross, the gain without the pain, then God would have NOTHING to offer us, NOTHING to give us that the world can’t give.
For me, that god would be a waste of time. Everyone loves a winner, but you find out who your true friends are when you lose, when you’re in pain, when you’re weak. And THIS is where God chooses to be with you and me.
This is the whole point of the secrecy of the Transfiguration. Jesus “ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen,” because the cross HAD to come first.
Before we could worship Christ we had to put him to death, so that God could bring him back to life and show us that our pitiful human demonstration of power stands NO chance against the TRUE glory of God.
Jesus tells them that all these “great” events – the healings, the teachings, the miracles, and the Transfiguration – need to be seen through the lens of the cross. Anything less would lead us to worship a god just like ourselves. We need more. And Jesus gives us more.
Jesus gives us God who KNOWS our pain, who is WITH US in suffering, who HOLDS us in our struggles and LIFTS us when we fall. Jesus is the shoulder to cry on, the strength against which we can scream in our desperate hours. To what other god could we ever direct our anger and hate? Any other god would crush dissent and doubt, but Jesus doesn’t – he loves us even IN them.
Any other god would want only the best and the brightest as followers, but Jesus calls the weak and sinful and sick and make us bright through HIS work.
Our weakness, our suffering, our doubts, our sinfulness – all those things are transfigured through Jesus’ sacrifice and love.
It doesn’t mean they go away, what it does mean is that even in the midst of them we have value to God, we are precious to God – and loved by God for all eternity.
Not always what we want, not always what we expect – but always what we ultimately need. Thanks be to God.